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What B.C.'s first rental zoning could mean for Burnaby's housing market

The city has the power to zone areas for rental-only, but hasn't decided how to use it
Sussex demolished
This apartment building on Sussex Avenue is one of many demolished in recent years to make way for new condo towers.

Burnaby is now the only municipality in B.C. with rental-only zoning on the books after council passed final adoption of a bylaw amendment on Monday.

It remains to be seen how the city will put the new powers into practice, but it will not be a fix-all tool for Burnaby’s housing woes, according to both the mayor and a pro-rental advocate.

“I don’t think that the rental-only zoning is any panacea and there is no one panacea,” said Paul Kershaw, a UBC professor and founder of Generation Squeeze, a group that advocates for policies that benefit young people. 

But Kershaw said he’s happy to see Burnaby’s council moving forward with rental zoning after years of allowing demolitions of rental buildings in Metrotown.

“I think it’s great to see the city wanting to change the tune on that story and want to make use of new tools to try and accelerate the pace at which we build new rentals,” he said.

Council also passed a motion Monday directing staff to begin planning for the implementation of the rental zoning. 

Kershaw said he hopes that plan is part of a more holistic approach that incentivizes more purpose-built rental developments built throughout the city – not only in Burnaby’s rapidly densifying city centres. That means building more rental housing in neighbourhoods traditionally reserved for single-family detached homes, he said.

Generation Squeeze’s new We Rent campaign is focusing its efforts on Burnaby, Kershaw said, because of its especially challenging market. As homeownership becomes increasingly out of reach, the city needs to prioritize building rental stock that’s suitable for everybody, including families, he said.

“We’re going to want to make sure that we have a number of units with three bedrooms,” Kershaw said, “because we can’t keep asking a younger demographic to try and make a go of it in this region at a price-point that requires them to treat their closet as their nursery.”

Mayor Mike Hurley also said he doesn’t think the rental zoning alone will be a panacea.

“I believe it’s another tool in our toolbox to deal with the housing issue in Burnaby,” he said.

“It will roll out as quickly as humanly possible from staff’s perspective. Is it going to answer all our housing problems by itself? No, I would say.”

Hurley said he will strike a housing task force in January that will have a six-month mandate to come back with recommendations to improve housing affordability. 

The task force was one of the new mayor’s key campaign promises.